Saturday, 22 October 2011

Hadrian's Muriel: a sad tale of a lost pedometer and disintegrating boot  October 21st.

  For those of you not familiar with our little island history you need to know that the Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a wall across what is now England in the year 122AD. Its purpose was to define the northern frontier of the Roman Empire and to keep a check on people passing through the wall in either direction. The wall was 75 English miles long, 80 Roman miles , and had forts, milecastles and turrets built at regular intervals. Although much of the wall has gone the Hadrian's Wall Path is a popular long distance walk and follows the remains or the line of the wall from Bowness on  Solway to Wallsend on Tyne.*
  Today's gadgie walk is along approximately twelve miles of the wall from Chesters at Chollerford to the wonderfully named Twice Brewed.
  The starting point is the roundabout at Chollerford, a layby on the B6320  (OL 43 GR 919706) road to Bellingham has a convenient  space for several cars and the cafe on the B6318 does an excellent bacon roll breakfast to start you on your way.
 This walk is so easy to follow you could do it without a map but the Ordnance Survey map of the wall is useful for identifying turrets, milecastles and other archaeological features.
 With pedometers zeroed and spirits strengthened by bacon (except for Ray, who, true to his principles made do with a cheese scone) we set out along the B6318, reaching Walwick (the farm on the wall) after about a mile. Turning right down a lane between the houses of the village we walked a few hundred yards to a signpost directing us across fields. The path here follows the wall itself, the walking is easy although in places the ground was muddy, mainly due to the number of cows congregating near gates and churning the field up.

This stretch of wall gives some idea of its construction but not its height. Nearby farms are probably built of stone quarried by Roman legionnaires. Vandalism or recycling, take your pick.

   Just beyond Carrawbrough Farm the path crosses the road to Brocolitia Fort and a diversion takes you to a handy Mithraum nearby.

Mithras was very popular with Roman squaddies who got up to all sorts of things in his temples. This one is near the fort of Brocolitia on the wall.

Crossing back to the north side of the road we continued on the line of the wall until we reached the remains of a turret (possibly 33b) where we decided to stop for lunch. The turret became a herbievorium.** Dave asked me how far we had come and I reached for my pedometer. It had come loose from my belt and was lost. After several expletives I grumpily settled down to eat my sandwich. My pedometer was a quality one, Hi Gear, retailing at about £20 but I had won it in an ebay auction for the princely sum of £1.74, no wonder I was mad. The situation was not helped by the punmeister's quip, "Do you think all the Roman legionnaires were in the Turretorial army?".***
   At this moment Chis and Nigel appeared, walking the wall in the opposite direction to us. As we chatted about bthe pleasures of walking I asked them to look out  for my pedometer on their way to Chollerford. Dave, who, considering he has a phone but has never been known to use it, suggested I give my phone number. I did.
  Moving on we approached what to me is the finest part of the wall, the stretch from Sewingshields (from Sigewine's shields) to Steel Rigg. Along, and beyond, this stretch the wall makes use of the Whinsill and stands high above the surrounding land, giving superb panoramas of Northumberland. At Sewingshields you can look down on the outline of medieval fishponds, Broomlee Lough and the more distant Nature Reserve of Greenlee Lough. Just over a mile from Sewingshields is the fort of Vercovicivm, better known as Housesteads and a must for school trips. The foundations of the fort are clearly visible, the museum and information centre well worth a visit and, as it is a popular site for school trips there were some bored looking sixth form girls waiting over by the fence, taking photographs and texting on their mobile phones.
  Beyond Housesteads the Pennine Way crosses the wall as it winds it's way to Kirk Yetholm in the borders.   And after Hotbanks farm the wall approaches Highshield Crags, a couple of hundred feet above Crag Lough, and my favourite spot on the wall.The crags are home to ravens, peregrines have been see there and far below there is usually a family of swans on the Lough. This spot alone is worth the walk.

           Crag Lough from Hotbanks Farm. The wall is built on the top of the craggs.                                                                                   

Dave points out the arch of a north gateway at one of the milecastles.

Ray, Brian and Dave at Hotbanks farm.
Beyond Crag Lough the wall dips down to Sycamore Gap, made famous by Kevin Costner in "Robin Hood". People who know the area and the film remain mystified as to how Robin got from Dover Beach to Hadrian's Wall in one frame. The magic of the movies !                                                                               

Ye  Olde Sycamoree Treee

From Robin's tree the wall climbs up to Peel Crags and from there the path leads to the car park at Steel Rigg. However, in order to see the crags that are popular with climbers we went round the base of the crags, admired a solitary climber and walked down the road to Twice Brewed. As we walked around the crag Dave exclaimed the sole was coming off his much loved "China Boots", a bargain from Go Outdoors. By the time we made it to Twice Brewed the sole, which was glued to the upper was almost completely off. It could have happened anywhere, if it had to happen we were at least near the end of the walk. My phone rang. It  was either Chris or Nigel, they had found my precious pedometer and would leave it at the car in Chollerford.                                                                                                                                                
This walk is a true gadgie walk as we were able to catch the AD122 bus back to Chollerford. This bus runs along the wall from April, to the end of October. The driver was extremely friendly as Dave asked to be dropped as near the car as possible because of his boot. The driver explained, "Ring the bell 100 yards from where you want to get off and leave the rest to me."                                                                                    
Back in Chollerford there was  no sign of Chris or Nigel. Brian drove a short distance up the road, my phone rang. "Your car has just passed us, no he's stopped, turned round and has offered us a lift for the last half mile. Your pedometer is safe!"                                                                                                                   
We called at the George, a very nice hotel next to the bridge at Chollerford and overlooking the Tyne. After an expensive pint it was decided to move on to The Boathouse at Wylam. Paradise! At least twelve real ales on sale. It was tempting to stay and catch a train back to Newcastle.                                                            
Dave's pedometers gave two readings. (He wears one on each hip, like John Wayne, but so do I) One said 12 miles, the other said 9.9. We both measured the walk as 12.2, so a claim of 12 relatively easy miles is a good one.                                                                                                                                  
* There are legions of books written about the wall. A good one is Hadrian's  Wall  by David Breeze and Brian Dobson.  For the more technical minded who want a stone by stone history of the wall the "Handbook of the Roman Wall" by J. Collingwood Bruce, originally published in 1863 but updated at least thirteen times (Fourteenth edition in 2006) is a must. The Great North Museum in Newcastle dedicates much space to the wall and of course the forts at Vindolanda, Birdoswald and Housesteads are well worth a visit   
** Hebievorium  A Latin phrase for eating place. (See Pliny the Elder et alia)
*** For my foreign readers, the British Army reserve is called "The Territorial Army"      
I   seem to be having alignment problems. Must try harder.                                                                                                                                                                                

Monday, 17 October 2011

A gadgie Ramble  October 14th

   There has been a gadgie walk this week, of a sort. Harry has family staying, Dave is visiting family,Ben  is still away, Herbie seems to have disappeared to live in Greggs and I have been very much off colour. This left Ray and Brian who went off to count the fish and chip shops between Craster and Seahouses.
     Last week I met a man I had been to college with. He had been a teacher and a warden  in an Outdoor Centre in Northumberland before cuts forced the county to close its centres, thus depriving many young people of some outdoor experience. He now works for, or maybe owns or is a partner in a small printing company in Wooler. He told me that Peter Clark, author of Where the Hills Meet the Sky, a book about wartime crashes in the Cheviots, had died earlier this year but that his books were still available. (see Hen Hole  September 23rd walk) Curious I looked up and found a good catalogue of small books about the region. Some local history, some local walks and local photographs. As you do when surfing I looked for links and quickly found  This site has a host of Cheviot walks, extremely well  described, with far more detail and information than I give. Written and illustrated by Geoff Holland they are a must for anybody wanting a more serious guide to a walk. I recommend them.

                                                                       Brian suggested I add pen portraits of the gadgie crew, so here  are most of us.  From left to right:
John Lockey, Brian Algar, Dave Kear, Harry Nagel and Herbie Tonge. Naturally I am missing, I took the photograph and have not mastered the self timer,

John Lockey is, at he moment, an occasional gadgie because he has to work to pay for his daughter's wedding. John is an electrician by trade, probably an electrical engineer. He probably could do the proverbial and sell a refrigerator to an eskimo. He is also a Makem, * but we try not to hold it against him.

Brian Algar has a degree in agriculture from the University of Newcastle, so he taught IT. He has a gift for puns and a love of bacon sandwiches and beer .

Dave Kear is the archaeologist and has been doing a course at Newcastle University for the last twenty years  called the Quternary. Even the lecturer has forgotten what it is about.Dave is very good at bird recognition and pretty good with flowers too. He is a big ALDI fan and I think in this photograph he is wearing ALDI boots. He is very keen on pedometers and has six. Also has an unused camera.

Harry Nagel started his working life with Parsons, manufacturers of electrical generators to the world. He gave it all up to lecture in engineering at a local college. Parsons was taken over by Siemens and more or less closed down as a result. Good photographer too.

Herbie Tonge has been just about everything; merchant seaman and teacher of bad boys are the jobs he talks most about. Takes thousands of photographs but nobody ever sees them. Very fond of food but remains slim.

Ray Craven is a sociologist by trade and worked in college with Brian, Harry and John. Not the most regular of gadgies but fully qualified and always welcome for his dashing good looks and merry tales of debauchery.

Ben Hull was a motor mechanic and is a fine runner. He accompanies celebrities on the Great North Run, wearing a bright yellow outfit so the cameras can pick him and his celeb out. Sometimes I think he could be more interesting to interview than the person he runs with.

And this is a photograph of me at the controls of a 3000 tonne coal cutting machine in Czechia. Yes I am in the yellow cab at the end of the arm and of course it wasn't working. Who would trust me with a 3000tonne coal cutter? I certainly wouldn't.
    I used to work as a teacher, in high schools, although many people, with some justification, would say I never worked a day in my life.

    As a child I had wanted to be an opera singer. In my first music lesson at Grammar School in September 1955 we were required by the teacher to come to the front of the school hall and sing up a scale as he played the piano. I was terrified and my voice cracked and I was told to sit down. When everybody, boys and girls had had their turn he stood in front of the class and said, "You all have good voices, apart from you", pointing straight at me. I never sang in the bastard's lessons again but was inspired by the moment to give up my ambition to be an opera singer and take up teaching and never be rotten to kids. The bit about the music lesson is true. I made the rest up.

    My best ever teacher was Mrs. Whitehead who took us in Standard 2 at Junior school. In these progressive times it would be called year 4. Because of the post war bulge our school was so overcrowded that some classes were held in the Parish Hall. Mrs Whitehead's class was upstairs in the room that was used in the evenings for scouts and guides, on different nights of course, this was 1952. She taught us everything of importance, how eskimos lived in their umiaks, how Africans rode British made bicycles through the jungle and how Mongolians lived in yurts. Years later, walking into a room in the Museum of Ethnography or something in St. Petersburg I saw my first yurt. (Just to remind you I have travelled, a bit) It took me straight back to our classroom in the Parish Hall and Mrs Whitehead. She wasn't too good on the Ten Commandments though. It was a church school and so we got our daily dose of Anglican theology. One day she was explaining the Commandments and got as far as "Thou Shalt not commit adultery". She told us it meant you were not to lie. A little hand at the back of the room went up and a voice said, "Please Mrs. Whitehead, we've already had that one. "
"Yes Michael, " she replied, "but this means really big lies."
Remember this was well before sex was invented in the 1960s.

* A makem is a person from Sunderland. The exact origins of the phrase "Makem and Takem" are obscure. One possibility is that ships were made in Sunderland and brought to Tyneside to have their engines fitted, Hence you "Makem" and we "Takem".

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Invisibles   October 7th

   My wife had three maiden aunts who lived together in a large house in Gateshead. They once told me how wonderful it must be to go walking with my friends in the Lake District, what with all those tea shops and fascinating philosophical conversations. I am often reminded of this, for example when Ray describes the new secretary in his department, when Brian reminds me of the time, (about 11.30 pm) when I rang my wife to boast I had managed a whole gallon of Jennings Bitter.She was as pleased to get the news as I was to give it. Couldn't do it now, sadly.
As the Wise Philosopher* once said,
 "When we were young men with families we could drink but couldn't afford to. Now as old retired men we can afford it but can't drink"
   Today's deep conversation was about ALDI stores, famous for their relative low prices and weekly special offers. They occasionally do a good line in walking, cycling and running gear and often have a sale of sledgehammers, bevel grinders and the like.  But today Dave said he had once bought two lavatory brushes for the price of one there.  "The original BOGOF offer "** quipped Brian.  The aunts would be perplexed.
  After last week's long and hard climb we chose a much easier walk today, centred on the National Park Information Centre at Ingram.  From Newcastle take the A1 north, just beyond Morpeth take the A697 and about one mile north of Powburn take the minor road signposted Ingram After three miles turn left to the centre. The centre is open from April to the end of October, sells sweatshirts, maps, books and ice cream as well as providing information.  (LR 81   GR 020164)

  The National Park Information Centre at Ingram.
Post walk ice creams cool you off before heading to a pub.

  Ingram is rich in the remains of prehistoric and Roman settlements. Almost every hill has a fort, there are the remains of medieval villages and much evidence or ridge and furrow agriculture. Read it all in Pevsner. This walk is a Dave the archaeologist walk.
 Leave the car park, past St Michael's church (old with lots of rebuilding) and when you reach the road turn left. Stay on the road for about a mile until you reach another car park on the right. At this point an unmarked path leads off on the left, follow it and after less than a miles walk you arrive at Brough Law. As we walked up the hill a group of sixth formers were being addressed by a bearded, ear ringed young man, not a teacher I suspect. The sixth formers looked suitably bored, some of the young ladies waited by the fence, possibly worried there phones weren't working out here or just waiting.
  Brough Law is a fine example of a bivallate Iron Age hillfort, 4th Century BC. looking North West you can see another of Dave's favourite Northumberland spots, Cunyon Crags, where he lost a pedometer.

This splendid view of Northumberland includes Cunyon Crags. A special place for some.

 Heading south from Brough Law the path follows the ridge until you come to a spot which offers a good view of Chesters, a marker on another favourite walk. Down the slope we found a good Herbie spot and had an early lunch. At this point we wandered off the track a little, but heading east you eventually reach a well made farm track above Fawdon Dean. Turn right and stay on the track until you are about 120 yards from a fence line. Here a path on the left leads down to the dean, follow it. Once through a gate you have a choice, either follow the path off to the right or trudge directly up the hill. As Dave wanted to see a settlement below the hill he and I followed the path, Harry and Brian went up the hill, partly so that Harry could photograph the settlement from above.  I can't find a name for this particular settlement but it is at GR 024135 and is quite an impressive one. Grassed circular mounds outline the walls and it is possible to make out some hut circles.
  Leaving the settlement Dave and I followed the footpath to Fawdon to meet the other two. On the corner of a plantation, used for rearing pheasants we found this delightful scarecrow.

A pheasant plucker from Fawdon.

Harry and Brian were on the path ahead  but we decided to head North West over West Hill and rejoined them on the path above Ingram Mill. A short walk along the road brings you back to the Information Centre and an ice cream.
   This walk is about 8 miles, relatively easy going. At the time of writing I haven't got Dave's all important readings and I have left mine on a piece of paper at my mothers!
   On the way home we stopped at the Village Inn in Longframlington for a beer. One of the bar staff was busy on the phone, the other was busy watching him being busy on the phone.  Not a word was spoken, except by the busy one on the phone.  We were the invisibles.  After a few minutes we looked at each other, nodded agreement and went to the Anglers Arms at Weldon Bridge. IT SOLD TIMOTHY TAYLOR'S LANDLORD, the second best thing to come from Keighley. ***We shall return.

The Wise Philosopher A book of assembly stories written by my good friend and pub team quiz mate Jim Cunningham. His other books, novels, include  Bar 8, The Heights and Starballs in Space. He doesn't mention drinking in the assembly stories.

** My Russian reader may require some explanation; BOGOF means "Buy One, Get One Free" and is a favourite supermarket ploy to make you buy two of things you quite often don't need. And "Bog" is an expression used mainly by boys and men for a lavatory.

*** My family is the first.

Look carefully and even on this small section of map you can see several forts and settlements around Ingram.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Five go off to the Lake District. September 30th.
   Every few weeks, depending on the weather, we gadgies set off for a day in the Lake District, the most beautiful area of England.
   Ben is away on holiday and his place has been taken by Ray, 98% vegetarian and fine fellow.
   We are going to walk up Hevellyn, Dollywagon Pike and Fairfield, a good test for gadgies. Instead of tackling Helvellyn from the usual starting points, Glenridding or Thirlspot *we parked at Stanah (Great name, don't they make stairlifts for superannuated gadgies?) which is where the A591 from Keswick meets the B5322 from Threlkeld. There is a small layby, big enough for a dozen cars at GR 318189 on  OL5.
  From here the route is quite easy, find the signpost that directs you to Sticks Pass and follow it up the side of Stanah Gill. It is grassy but steep and seems very long. On reaching the cross roads at Sticks Path turn right and follow the path running roughly south. The first summit you come to is called Raise, the next is Lower Man and then on to the summit of Helvellyn and its spectacular views. Swirral Edge and Striding Edge extend round Red Tarn to the East, to the West lies the rest of the Lake District. There is a cross shaped shelter providing an open air Herbie Spot, quite often a few inquisitive Herdwick **sheep who will share your sandwiches and a family of ravens, none of whom quoth"nevermore", but they croak quite nicely.
   Moving on in a southerly direction on the ridge, not the slightly lower path, there is a memorial to the first aeroplane to land on an English mountain, an AVRO in 1926, an easy way to get to the summit. And it took off again, safely.

Striding Edge from Nethermost Pike.
It is a good way of approaching Helvellyn, quite precipitous and dangerous in bad weather. Famous for yellow shorts, but that's another story.

Harry demonstates either his skill as a photographer (undenied) or his ambition to be the centre fold in Playboy.

The next summit is Nethermost Pike and then Dollywagon Pike where Dave changed miraculously from archaeologist to geologist and pointed out the valleys carved by ancient glaciers, and all pointing in the general direction of Newcastle upon Tyne.
 From this pike the path zig zags down to Grisedale Tarn. The path has been well built in local stone rather than discarded mill yard flagstones but the gradient hammers your knees. Follow the path round the shore of the tarn to Grisedale Hause.
  At this point the team split, amicably. Brian and I headed down the valley towards Little Tongue and the road to Grasmere. The three stalwarts walked up Fairfield and down to Rydal.
  When the two of us got to the road (A591) we followed it until we reached Grasmere Village. Here we took the road past Dove Cottage, sometime home of William Wordsworth and his sister. It being September 30th there was not a single daffodil to be seen, never mind a host. The road becomes a track and eventually a path. It is an old corpse or coffin road, used once upon a time to take the deceased to church in the next parish. There are several "resting stones" presumably for the carriers as much as the coffin. In westerns they would have slung the corpse over the back of a horse and tied it down.
A view of Rydal Water from the "Coffin Road". Nearby was an old tree with hundreds of small denomination coins hammered into it. To pay the Ferryman ?

When we reached Rydal I suggested I catch a bus to Stanah as there was one due and bring a car back, allowing the lads a pint or three in the Badger Bar. However, within minutes the three really tough gadgies appeared, we all caught the bus to Stanah (Bus passes are useful, even in the Lake District!).
 The Horse and Farrier in Threlkeld is a lovely pub to have a drink in after a hard walk although it seems to be far more interested in diners than tired walkers. A good selection of Jennings Ales though, unless you are the designated driver. But I will claim joke of the day,
"Who introduced golf to Russia ?" asked Brian
"Mr Putting," I replied.
My pedometer measured this walk as 12.08 miles, the Fairfield variation as 12.1. Taking into account ups and downs I reckon on 12.5 tough miles.

* The best guides to the Lake District Fells are, of course, the works of Alfred Wainwright, best read after the walk and in a flat vowelled  Lancashire accent. Book 1, the Eastern Fells does not have an ascent of Helvellyn from Stanah but there is one for Raise, which covers the first part of our trip.  There are eight volumes in this famous series, all beautifully illustrated and written with a gentle humour. I think I shall concentrate on volume 8  "The Outlying Fells ..... written primarily for old age pensioners................" But not yet as St Augustine says.

** Herdwick sheep are the hardy animals kept in the Lake District. Traditionally they know there own "heafs" or "hefts" (Grazing areas) and keep to them.

It's the reader in Russia who fascinates me, could this be a David Cameron moment?